I remember getting our first VCR. Still quite pricey at the time, it was probably the only status symbol I've ever possessed that actually made me the envy of any neighbourhood chums. Well, most of them. My Jones-esque neighbours picked up the 5th model produced, and couldn't resist the upgraded 8th model complete with camcorder, thus leading to our frugal acquirement of the recently defunct technology. I tore through the ample selection of 12 cassettes featured at my local convenience store, armed with nothing more than a permission note from my Mom and youthful exuberance. My imagination spun, consumed with the possibilities of what lie on those coveted, seemingly more selective, 8 tapes marked "Beta". Or what about that mostly obscured top row? Enormous in sheer volume, tipping the scales with at least 35 options, teasing me with women's foreheads and the tops of their hair... What could those stories be about? Then our podunk town got it's very own video store, and I was truly born.
The unassuming building collected within it not just shelves and shelves of movies, but a culture rooted in movies. A culture of potential and wonder, fears and laughter; everything a kid could ever desire. Or question. My imagination could rest, as it knew it would be sated. I could temporarily ride as a passenger to someone else's driving force, and bear witness to a whole world's imagination. With the store, came tradition. Many a Saturday afternoon unrolled to the ritual of the video store experience, culminating in the actual watching of the films. The giddiness of anticipation racked my little body for the excruciating 10 minute car ride, and I was prone to bursting through the "Enter" door as though I were about to save someone from a burning house. Here is where I usually stopped dead in my tracks. Here is where they usually displayed the new promotional items and recent paraphernalia amassed by the cinematically versatile entrepreneur. Shangri-La in reach, with it's warm lights caressing my face, ever beckoning, I would gaze at these objects; thinking a child's thoughts, I would subconsciously attribute to them some sort of subjective meaning. They were tokens of fiction that I could minimally interact with, and they unknowingly fuelled curiousity and reflection. I stared at a Top Gun model and felt that if I could squeeze a G.I. Joe guy in there I'd be halfway to making my own movie. I didn't even like Top Gun. A looming cardboard cut-out of The Toxic Avenger haunted my dreams for years, even after I saw that he wasn't really the bad guy. An autographed picture of Andre the Giant impressed me not because Video Store Guy had met the behemoth, rather because I thought they had wrestled together. This entire build of excitement would come to a head when Mom would finally catch up to me, give me a matronly pat on the backside, and utter the rapturous phrase "Go pick two." With that, my mind was unleashed.
As frenzied a mental state as I was in, I was also a disciplined child. I calmly and politely wandered the aisles, carefully replacing any movie boxes I pulled down for inspection. (Looking back now, I may also add the term "meticulously".) I poured over my options, wondering if I should rush the New Release section in an attempt to procure one of the five copies of Bloodsport, or scour the labyrinthine racks trying to unearth the next American Ninja. After some reassuring words spoken by Mom to Video Store Guy, I was allowed through the blackened saloon doors and into the "Scary Room". The world of imagination grew exponentially. So many new questions posed themselves, poking and prodding from their small but secured positions within alphabetical confines, OR demanding, should their visage be promoted to the ever-fickle medium of wall poster. Why did that girl have razor-like claws splayed across her face? What was that little, bald, green thing coming out of that toilet? I had to know. There was a certain power to this secluded room, to these movies that had to be isolated and hidden, and I had to see it first-hand. I had to see it all first-hand. Even if it was just two at a time.
Deliberations done and whims accounted for, the remainder of the day was dedicated to the actual viewing. These were the hours in which the emotions ran the entire gamut; from triumphant to tragic and everything in between. (Sometimes a complete absence of emotion, which was the least appealing of possible outcomes.) Potential could be exceeded or completely untapped and anything could happen during this final pay-off. But nothing could change that initial feeling of wonder; standing at the doorway of an almost dream-like plain, knowing that you have a very limited time once inside, and that after you've made your choice that particular journey is writ. (It is possible to abandon your trip early, but I've always felt that if I turn off a movie before it's through, I'm bound to miss something good.) No matter the outcome, the build consistently held the greatest draw.
As I got older, childhood traditions became teenage ones, and though I had forsaken "days off hangin' with Ma", those sentiments remained steadfast. I could (and still can) wile away the hours wandering a video store with nary a care in the world nor a dime to my name, and it seemed only natural that I gravitate towards the movie rental industry. Despite my University education, it was the only real job I ever had. And throughout this influx, the years and years of cinematic gorging, those feelings held true. I couldn't help but succumb to an almost indiscernible dance of joy when a new box of movies arrived. It's just a part of my nature.
Then I grew concerned. Change was afoot. And though the rental industry was not quite dead, it was very gravely hobbled.
I bore witness to the lowest, weakest moment of this formerly glorious juggernaut's tumultuous tale. The "Closing Sale". And it was ugly as hell. Vast amounts of human civility were decimated simply because a movie that would have cost $9.99 the day before now rang through at $6.99. Movies at 30% off is apparently synonymous with civility at 90% off. Manners, structure, and the minimal efforts to properly replace that which one removes were tossed to the wayside and thoroughly spat on. Grown men and women ransacked and pillaged, discarding stuff to the floor, stepping on that which they just discarded, arguing over line placements, all while never missing the opportunity to bombard the busiest employee with the most inane or unanswerable of questions. "Do you have any copies left of disc 2 of season 5 of One Tree Hill? Where would it be if you did?"
Answer - "Well, sir, up until the doors opened this morning it would have been properly filed in the TV section. Given that we have been open for about four and a half hours it may be discarded in that pile that is rapidly growing in the corner... It's possibly one of those six movies I see kicked under the pop cooler... But, were I of the betting sort, I'd wager that it's nestled safely within a stack of 35 DVD's held by one of the 17 people behind you who've actually been waiting in line for the opportunity to accost someone, anyone, with their queries."
Ignore the small child weeping in the corner because she's lost her mother; parental responsibility seems to take a back seat when it comes to calculating a $12 savings, and there are plenty of kind strangers out there just looking for their chance to shine. (Child Abductors take note: a "Store Closing" sale may also offer you the "deal" of a lifetime.) Some kid just ran face-first at full sprint into a shelving unit. Two men are "loudly discussing" who has the right to purchase a video game - the guy who saw it first, or the guy who picked it up first. An elderly woman is complaining about chest pains and shortness of breath, while surrounding patrons stare blankly through her, mentally salivating at the chance to pick through her meagre, and hopefully soon to be abandoned, selection of DVDs. Did I just see a movie get thrown up on top of a hanging light fixture?
These are the consumptive(?) practices which should promote shame and embarrassment even in those not directly participating. This is, after all, a collective representation of humankind, and that is a notion in which we have no choice but participate. A large number of people walked into this riotous scenario, took a brief moment to get over the shock, then dove in head first, seemingly without even a momentary reflection in regard to the depths of savagery to which they were about to sink. Of course, as with any "en masse" situation, a select handful opted to lead by example, purchasing with proper etiquette or even vocally expressing disdain, but they were simply outmatched and their sympathies often fell on pre-occupied ears. Perhaps, after the dust has settled, their efforts will be posthumously appreciated. The rest of the people fell everywhere in between. I tried to tread carefully that day, and the few similar days to follow, and worked very hard to make things easier for others, but in the back of my mind all I could do was hang my head.
As one more symbol of a culture that once was passed into memory, guys like me were left to ask not only "What happened?", but also "What happens next?" Some change is good, some bad, and all of it is inevitable, and clearly this is what we asked for; we can't possibly remove the demand and expect the supplier to survive. I, too, contributed to this downfall. In manners no different from every other film watcher. I somewhat liken us to the small child who's finally allowed to have everything in the toy store. I can offer up no defense, yet I can offer up another analogy. (Surprise, surprise.) I am addicted to movies. I wanted to watch everything at all costs. Or minimal costs. Or average costs. Or, despite my own well-being, expensive costs. What do you think would happen if you offered a crack junky the chance to get some free crack?
In turn, I was in a strange/strangely humorous place. Here was an industry into which I poured not only passion but also dedication, and I kind of expected it to return the favour. I almost felt as though I had been cheated on... That being said, the root of any problem seems like the most logical point at which to start the understanding, and when I cleared away the swamp water I found another fear wading in there. I feared, that on some level, I was losing respect for film. I'll probably get around to dealing with that, but I've been so busy "stream of conscious-ing" that I'm somewhat distracted.
I recently got the chance to work on some filming. It was almost as fun as watching movies. Maybe equal... Did I help in the grandest way possible? No. Did I help in any way I possibly could, be it miniscule or moderate? Yes. Will projects turn out a financial success? An artistic success? Both? I do not know. I helped feed someone else's child. (An astute editor would be able to make a better judgement call on those latter questions.) But two important things do hold true: I laughed the entire way through, and I remain excited to watch.
Wow. That's a lot of emotion(s). I'll probably be able to joke around for the rest of my life.